Tuesday, January 08, 2008

I am not a citizen of France

I got a call the other night from a guy who wants to apply for the vacancy on the Board. He had come to my house over the holidays for a party and had asked a few pointed questions about the Board which signaled his intent. (As soon as someone asks you, "So how much of a time commitment is taken up with being on the Board?" then you KNOW without a shadow of a doubt that they are considering being on the Board. Someone who is just faintly curious tends to pose the questions as: "How much time do you spend on Board things?" I discovered this difference in focus a few years ago, and it's been proven right every single time. If the word "you" is in the sentence, they are curious. If the subject's completely general, then they are thinking of themselves.)

This guy called a few days ago, all upset, to say that the new president of the Board was angry at him. What now can he do to ensure his appointment to the Board if she's annoyed? Umm. Dude. Like, nothing. It's an appointment, not a public election. Apologize to her for pissing her off and move on. Hope that she gets over it before the appointment decision.

(Thing is, she won't get over it. The new prez is the Board member I used to be friends with before she got on the board two years ago. As soon as she got on, she insisted on serving on the policy committee with me, to prevent the appointment of another Board member, and blew the whole thing off, leaving me to do all the editing and refusing to even read the edits when I had finished them. I called her on it, and she got angry, and eventually she said, "Well, it sounds as if you don't respect me as a Board member." And my response ended the friendship completely. "You don't read the Board packets, you never research anything, and you completely gave up any interest in tackling a project that you committed yourself to. You're engaging in negotiations and you won't read the employment contracts. No. I don't respect that." [That sound you hear in the background is Taps playing over the death of our relationship.] Once she gets pissed off, she never gets over it. She's still trying to block teacher appointments to teacher committees for people who disagreed with her in public on a minor topic from two years ago. Stop being personal and get over yourself. Sheesh.)

So, loving a touch of gossip, I asked my friend what had happened to get her pissed at him. Well, he's been talking to all the Board members, asking questions, and trying to get them to say they'll support his appointment. Nothing unusual.

He sent an email to one Board member saying that he was pretty sure that Board members X and Y also supported his appointment. Nothing unusual.

The recipient of the email forwarded it (NO!! NEVER FORWARD EMAILS!!) to the prez, saying that he thought this was the best guy for the job. Bad Board Member.

The Brown Act, an open governance law, says that all decisions made by a publicly elected body must be made in public. Therefore, there can be no conversations or emails by the majority of the Board on any topic which the Board may later vote on outside of a publicly noticed, fully public meeting, where the public may comment on the item under discussion.

So when the Board member gets an email which telegraphs the intent of the majority of the Board, he's supposed to write the person back, saying that he cannot make up his mind before the meeting, and that he's not supposed to know the intent of a majority, so we cannot continue this discussion. That email really should be CC'ed to the Political Fair Practices Commission and perhaps County Counsel just to cover his ass. County Counsel may ask the Board member who received the communication to announce at a public meeting that he engaged in ex parte communication before the meeting. But usually that's the end. A public remedy for an honest mistake is fine.

If the Board member forwards that email to anyone else on the Board, then the original Board member has violated the Brown Act, and the one who receives the forward and reads its contents has technically violated the Brown Act as well. (Yeah, I know. Just by reading it.) Again, there are remedies to this. You basically announce publicly that an error has occurred, try to relevel the playing field for the other candidates and for the public, and move on.

What the prez did though, was really idiotic.

She called the possible candidate and told him that HE had violated the Brown Act and that no Board member could now speak to him.

Oy yoi yoi.

Idiot Person Posing As President, the PUBLIC is not bound by the Brown Act, only the Board. The public can communicate with whomsoever they wish. It's actually encouraged! No, really! It's up to the elected officials to keep their noses clean. (Did you report the member of your Board to the authorities? Why no, you did not. Oh great.)

I told my friend on the phone, "Look. Stop talking to the Board members right now. You have their support; what more do you need to say? Apologize profusely to the president and then see how it goes. Go talk to the Superintendent to learn about some issues in the District so you can be knowledgeable when they interview you. It'll be fine."

"But what about the Brown Act? Is the Attorney General going to call me or something?"

"No. No. First of all, the AG is only for criminal matters, not governmental. No one's going to be calling you. You did nothing wrong. Remember, you are not a citizen of France. You are not bound by French laws. Who knows? You could be breaking three or four French laws a day. Who cares? The Board is bound by the Brown Act, not you."

"Oh. OK. That makes sense. Boy, she really is a bully, isn't she?"

"Uh. There's no response to that which will be at all polite."

"Is that why you're not putting up your name?"

"Uh. Let's just say that I'm done being a citizen of France and leave it at that. OK?"


A few days before this I got a call from the VP at the Middle School asking me to please put in my application because the employees were worried about the lack of expertise on the Board. Oh, jeez. I wouldn't mind going up there and being appreciated, but I think my passport's truly expired.

4pm Edited to Add: Duh. I was correcting myself as I was writing until one statement ended up being over-corrected and then wrong. Double Duh. Most people talk about the District Attorney when they get all freaky about politics. The DA is involved with criminal matters and therefore has little or no jurisdiction over Brown Act violations. It's the Attorney General who's in charge of political malfeasance. When I was on the Board there was always some crank "reporting" us to the DA -- I had a lot of Scooby Doo-like conversations with the DA over the four year term. "Woo? You wrant Wrat?" "Nothing. Never mind." "Attorney General? Wroo? District Attorney? Wroo?"

So when I was talking to my friend he was talking about the DA calling him, but then when I blogged I corrected him to say that the AG was the one who...oh, whatever. It hardly matters.


Anonymous said...

The phrase 'well out of it' comes to mind.
I'm sorry for the VP who's intelligent enough to appreciate you, but after all the nonsense, why would you want to?

Marianne McA

Suisan said...

I feel bad for him too.

And I admit to being smugly confident in my under appreciated abilities. Big Raspberry kisses to everyone else involved. Phthhhht!

Kate R said...

um. But why France? Because they have a bloated bizarre bureaucracy with peculiar rules? So does the Brown Act fit in with that?
And did you see that Beth apparently has some sort of Smell-o-rama thing going on too? You sensitive olfactory womens!

Kate R said...

and if, by joining the board, you then become a citizen of france, does this entitle you to better food and coffee?

Suisan said...

The "I am not a citizen of France and therefore am not subject to its laws" was just a phrase that used to go around my house when I was a kid.

My mother was a lawyer who worked for "MORAL" before it became "NARAL", trying to get old anti-abortion laws off the books in Massachusetts in case Roe v. Wade was ever overturned. So there were a few conversations about where Federal laws kick in, and whether or not you can violate New Hampshire's laws if you are a Massachusetts resident, etc. And my mother always brought it back to "I am not a citizen of France" whenever the distinction came up.

I've only been engaged in a few "What does the Brown Act mean to me?" sort of conversations, but the point that it ONLY applies to elected officials, or committees formed by elected officials, seems to be well understood if we bring the ever-patient "Citizens of France" into the conversation.

Kate R said...

and OT yet again, I keep thinking about you and scent. I was reading dailykos this morning and someone was talking about gas (he'd been exposed as a soldier) he wrote "and to this day I can still vividly remember the pungent smell of the gas, like an olfactory scar."

I thought of you and came running over here to give you the phrase olfactory scar. There. It's a present. Not as good as a chewed up sock from the new kitty, but it's all I got this morning.

Suisan said...

I love that phrase. Olfactory scar.

But it has a negative connotation, no? That the scent brings back a bad memory? In my case, the memory itself is often good, but so vivid and pungent and unexpected that I'm taken with a wave of emotion for the animal I'm remembering. OK, maybe it is a scar.

I have a scar on my left wrist that came from my disentangling a stallion's hoof from a wire fence. The wire jumped back and sliced the back of my wrist open. I never got stitches for it, so it's pretty noticeable. It's a mark, but it reminds me of a sweet and gentle guy who waited patiently with his hoof stuck in a fence until I could come rescue him.

So after all that round abouting, yeah. I do have olfactory scars. Camphor trees and spring mud. Mane and Tail shampoo. Sometimes Orvus paste. Grapefruit rinds boiling in sugar syrup. And Bigeloil. Which for a few years I thought was maybe made from biggles. Or, more disturbingly, perhaps from beagles?